Atheism: A Special Place?

Atheism: A Special Place? February 10, 2017

Should there be a special place for atheist writings, separated off from other subjects? Some atheists think so; they want a place where atheism is the only subject discussed, not questions of social justice, or policy, or whatever. Like Jeremiah, in a recent post, I see both sides.

In particular, I do not believe that atheism, in itself, commits the disbeliever to any particular political position. I’ve seen atheists who believe that holding an atheistic position necessarily implies a “progressive,” or “liberal” set of social and/or political values. So they think such views are in and of themselves a part of theism. Surely that distorts the meaning of the word “atheism”–and, not incidentally, gives unnecessary ammunition to those who disparage atheism itself. And, in fairness, I have known those who deny the existence of any sort of god, while holding socio-political views that I might well describe as fascist. (The novelist and soi disant philosopher Ayn Rand comes to mind.) In the interest of simple accuracy, let’s stick with the basic meaning of “atheism,” and develop whatever other political positions we may hold on their own merits.

That said, atheism may lead some of us in certain directions, and these need to be made clear. The title of this blog is “A Tippling Philosopher,” and I can’t see that that restricts us to talking about atheism, even in a wide sense. A goal of the philosopher, I should think (speaking as one whose training and career are in the field of academic philosophy) that at least one goal of philosophy should be to develop a coherent worldview, taking account of all relevant information. So, of course, we will have opinions on all sorts of topics, having all degrees of relevance to atheism, however narrowly defined.

From what I can tell, my own values are closely similar to those expressed by Jeremiah, and Jonathan. I am retired, after forty-three years of university teaching, and widowed, after thirty-nine years of marriage. I qualify as a political liberal, on nearly every count. I am a paid-up, regularly attending member of the local chapter of PFLAG (for those who may not know, an acronym for Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays). I identify as a “friend,” both of individual gay people and of “gay” causes.

My point here is that my views on this subject are not isolated from my overall position of naturalism. Since I don’t believe in gods, I certainly don’t believe that the Bible or any other putatively sacred scripture is divinely revealed word. So I don’t believe we should hate gay people because god told us to, nor that we should condemn gay lifestyles on biblical grounds. More generally, I believe that all life forms, including Homo sapiens, are the product of evolutionary processes. This includes human sexuality in all its forms.

Does this mean that my “liberal” position on gay issues directly follows logically from my naturalism? No, not in any straightforward way. But I do think my position is consistent with that overall metaphysical position. And I think it is worth explaining what I consider the connection; this can itself be a point worthy of discussion.

Even more obviously, a naturalistic position leads to concern with the ecological welfare of the planet and its inhabitants. An atheist such as myself can hardly suppose that a supernatural god will protect humanity from the consequences of our own foolhardy and short-sighted exploitation of the earth. So, if anything even more than theists, naturalistic atheists should focus on climate change, and its implications for life, human and other.

So, should there be a special place for atheistic discussion, all else excluded? I think this is neither realistically possible nor intellectually desirable. But those who demand such a separation deserve this much. We should make an effort to explicitly draw out the connections between our atheism and whatever social or political position we are advocating. This much is due to atheism itself, and it will make for a more coherent position. Which, ultimately, should be at least one of our goals.

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